Don’t trust numbers–or the media

By Nicole Kobie

Don’t believe everything you read, especially numbers.

Using opinion polls, media outlets create stories and perspectives. Because they’re numbers,
people tend to accept them as fact. However, it’s not only the accuracy of the statistics, but the way they’re presented and interpreted that can sway or reinforce beliefs. We must learn to interpret for ourselves.

Consider, for example, a recently released CNN/USAToday/Gallup Poll. A headline claims, “Many Muslims polled think unfavourably of U.S.” According to the numbers shown, that assessment is accurate. Of the nine Muslim countries polled, five had over half the respondents saying they had an unfavourable opinion of the U.S. However, some of the other results were less clear and could easily be interpreted differently with a bit more information and critical thought.

According to this poll, 67 per cent of respondents think the September 11 attacks were morally unjustified but 77 per cent see the U.S. military action in Afghanistan as morally unjustified. The use of the word “but” by the unnamed writer of the piece suggests the 77 per cent is something strange, something unexpected. How could Muslims in Pakistan-where 80 per cent said the war is immoral-not be more concerned with the war taking place next door than the attacks that took place across the world from them?

That same question posed to Americans shows 89 per cent approve of the military action. From that, one could easily conclude that while most Muslims are non-violent and against military action, nearly all Americans are violent and for military action. Does that fit with the rhetoric, with the American moral superiority?

Considering some of the nations polled-including Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia-it’s no wonder the idea of military action provokes a negative reaction, as violence has so recently been threatened against them. They’re afraid they may be next.

Also, considering only 11 per cent of Kuwaitis actually believe Arabs committed the attacks on September 11, it shouldn’t be surprising that 17 per cent think the war on Afghanistan is moral. They fail to believe who George Bush claims the culprits are, so why should they accept the morality of the punishment?

Only five per cent of Iranians are fans of Bush, which is amazing considering he calls them evil. If Bush called Canadians evil and put us next on his hit list, I hope we’d have the good sense to hate the man too.

Then again, media like CNN would probably convince us otherwise.

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